PlayBook may rip page from Google

Just months after dismissing the importance of mobile apps, Research in Motion could be jumping aboard the app bandwagon.

According to a report from Bloomberg today, RIM is planning to let its upcoming PlayBook tablet run applications designed for the ever-popular Android platform. Citing two anonymous sources, the Bloomberg report said RIM is developing the software to support the apps on its own BlackBerry operating system internally and that it might be ready by the second half of the year.

While RIM does have its own store for BlackBerry applications, known as BlackBerry App World, the company exacts more control over what it allows onto its devices than what Google and Apple exact over Android and iPhone devices, respectively. In fact, Google essentially has an “anything goes” policy that relies primarily on users to fish out applications that are either inappropriate or that contain malware.

Opening its own platform up to Android applications raises questions over how RIM will maintain tight security on the PlayBook that it has traditionally maintained on its BlackBerry smartphones. RIM so far is declining to comment or provide further details on its rumored plans to integrate Android into the PlayBook OS.

Just last November, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie dismissed the importance of mobile applications by asserting that smartphone and tablet users “don’t need an app for the Web,” since the most important aspect of any mobile device is the Internet experience it delivers to its users.

“You don’t need to go through some kind of control point,” Balsillie explained. “That’s the core part of our message…It is really not about a set of proprietary rules or about ‘appifying’ the Web. The Web needs a platform that allows you to use your existing Web content, not apps.”

Mobile applications have become an increasingly popular feature of smartphones over the past couple of years, especially with the high-profile launches of application shopping centres such as Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market.

The most recent survey data from research firm ChangeWave shows that 14 per cent of smartphone users said that applications were what they liked best about new smartphones, followed by ease of use (12 per cent) and Internet access (12 per cent). Corporate e-mail access, which has long been RIM’s bread-and-butter application, was considered the most important feature by 10 per cent of users, the survey showed.

The PlayBook, RIM’s first-ever foray into the growing tablet market, is due to be released this spring. RIM also plans on releasing a Sprint-exclusive 4G version of the PlayBook this summer that will feature connectivity to Sprint’s WiMAX network. The tablet has a 1GHz dual core processor and is slightly lighter and thicker than Apple’s popular iPad. And unlike the iPad, the PlayBook is tailored for the enterprise since it features all the same wireless security features that BlackBerry devices have and it comes installed with HD videoconferencing capabilities.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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